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Reviewed by:
  • The Impact of the South African War
  • Laura E. Nym Mayhall
The Impact of the South African War. By Omissi and Thompson (eds.). Houndsmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave, 2002.

The South African War (1899–1902) has come under renewed scrutiny in recent years as historians and literary critics have returned to Britain’s most serious military engagement of the late nineteenth century in search of the origins of phenomena as diverse as the welfare state and modernity itself. The collection under examination here differs from most in its emphasis upon effects rather than origins, and it frames its enquiry broadly, looking to short, medium, and long-range consequences of the war. Divided into three parts, the book examines multiple contexts of the war.

Part I, “The South African Impact,” addresses the war’s impact upon the various communities constituting South Africa. Taken together, the chapters establish the war as not only an imperial conflict, but one civil and total as well. In an essay ranging across the twentieth century, Albert Grundlingh charts the changing meanings of the war for South Africans; not until the 1990s, he suggests, was the war represented popularly as belonging to both black and white South Africans. Bill Nasson traces the complex processes by which Blacks in Natal and Indians in Natal and the Cape were pulled into the conflict, contextualizing their subsequent frustration that their support of the British cause did not translate into increased political rights after the war. Iain R. Smith and Saul Dubow reexamine the impact of the war upon relations between South Africans of English and Dutch extraction, both through the lens of British High Commissioner Alfred Milner’s interventions in the region following the end of hostilities. Smith debunks the notion that the Rand’s gold-mining magnates controlled the fate of the republics after the war and makes the case for Milner’s support for, rather than exploitation of, the British Crown colonies in South Africa. Dubow reconstructs the “‘broad’ South Africanism” (77) of the English-speaking policy makers, writers, and artists associated with the Milner Kindergarten, and delineates the white nationalist identity available in the years before a more exclusivist Afrikaner identity came to dominate South African political life.

Part II, “The British Impact,” turns the focus to the war’s influences on domestic politics and culture. Andrew Thompson connects domestic commodification of the war, national philanthropy, and commemoration of the dead, uncovering “pervasive, if passive public acceptance of military intervention” (104) and revealing the humanitarian, not imperialistic, justification for war relief funds. Paul Laity assesses the relative strengths of peace associations and determines that all were largely ineffectual. And while most peace campaigners came from Nonconformist communities, Greg Cuthbertson’s examination of missionary Wesleyan Methodism finds that at least this group of Nonconformists supported the war and Britain’s imperial mission in South Africa, with lasting effects upon the domestic church. Jacqueline Beaumont attests to the singular significance of the South African War for the career of Lionel James, war correspondent for The Times. Peter Cain and Geoffrey Searle return to key historiographical concerns. Cain tackles the context of Hobson’s now canonical study, Imperialism (1902), contending that Hobson’s analysis owed more to Gladstonian liberalism and Cobdenite internationalism than to Marxist socialism. Searle disputes the notion that concerns with national efficiency grew out of the war; rather, he argues that the “lessons” of the war, including the need for increased government emphasis upon expertise and science, and the need to reform the army and to cultivate human capital were all at least a decade old by the turn of the century. The war, he argues, merely articulated old concerns within a new framework of national crisis.

Part III, “The Imperial and International Impact,”examines the war’s effects upon relations within and without the empire. David Omissi assesses the war’s legacy for India’s relations with Britain, finding that for many Indians, the war became a “test of empire” (221), one which the British largely failed. Having rejected an offer of Indian troops and accepted a political settlement that undermined the political rights of Indians in the Cape colony, the British came under increasing...

Additional Information

ISSN
1532-5768
Launched on MUSE
2003-04-29
Open Access
No
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